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Aiwendil 02-28-2005 05:38 PM

The Silmarillion proper ends with the fall of Angband. You could say, of course, that this was also "asked for" by Earendil and granted by the Valar. But I don't see how that makes it non-eucatastrophic. A eucatastrophe doesn't need to be completely unexpected and unsought. In LotR, Gandalf, Aragorn, and many others are aware of Frodo's quest. And the fall of Morgoth is unexpected.

I would say that the requirement for a eucatastrophe is that there is a happy ending following a moment of utter hopelessness.

Shelob 02-28-2005 07:56 PM

I may not be able to add more than has already been said, but I shall at least try...

Firstly, Sophia the Thunder Mistress proposed a three way unity of Good--Beauty--Truth, and later suggested that it might instead be a unity of Joy--Beauty--Truth. When I wrote these down (I can't remember anything without writing it down) I wrote them down as Good--Beauty--Truth--Joy and bracketed it off to show the two three way unities, thusly it became {Good--[Beauty--Truth}--Joy]. What I cannot convey properly with the computer is that when I bracketed it of by hand the unity of Beauty--Truth became boxed out and separate.

This pairing of Beauty being Truth I know to be famous from the lines "Truth is Beauty; Beauty Truth" (or something like that at least. I don't actually know the origin of those lines, I can only recall hearing them from various sources...including The Simpsons..) To address this I would like to call to mind Lalwendė's response of,


"Even in terms of language, those who speak beautifully can be speaking words which have evil intent, Saruman being the prime example. The Silmarils are beautiful, but they also provoke turmoil. The One Ring is an eye catching item, literally, and it tempts Smeagol into murder. Perhaps things of evil necessarily have to adopt the appearance of beauty in order to worm their way into the hearts and minds of the good."
Truth may be either 'good' or 'bad' but in either case it remains a 'Truth'. The Ring is the Truth of Evil, but it is also Beautiful beyond reason. Saruman is the Truth of Treachery, and his words ring (sorry...) with the Beauty of Treason. Both of these are preceived as 'bad' but even the 'good' can be simplified to nothing more than Beauty and Truth. The Elves are unquestionably Beautiful and are, as suggested in littlemanpoet's original post, the Truth of Harmony.

Even the Hobbits, in their innocent Beauty, are the Truth of peace and contentedness. It is only when something takes from them their Beauty (Saruman's actions in the Shire) that their Truth is taken from them, They are no longer as they Are. (I know full well that it could easily be the other way around...Saruman could have taken from the shire it's Truth, it's very nature, and in doing so initiated the loss of Beauty. I chose to phrase it as taking away the Beauty and therefore losing the Truth because it seemed to flow slightly better that Saruman could not touch the nature of the shire itself, and could only affect the more physical/corporeal elements of the Shire)

Along the Same lines things in the books which are not Beautiful are somewhat of a mystery. Simplest of all examples is that of Aragorn/Strider who, at Bree, looked foul and felt fair. He then had no 'Beauty' and the Truth of him was hid from those around him, he was not 'Aragorn son of Arathorn, Isildur's heir' but 'Strider, one of the Rangers and a "strange-looking weather-beaten man" (The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter9)'. Only when he is given the associated Beauty of Kingship (Power-->Good-->Beauty; such that one assumes, as many cultures do, that it is good to possess power and a 'higher position on the social ladder') that The Hobbits learn the Truth of who he is.

Secondly, I would address the unity of Language--Power.
I cannot recall the exact place this thought came to me, but it had been building through much of this thread and finally came into coherent being while I was reading the last two Paragraphs of Lalwendė's February 22nd (2005) post. What those paragraphs reminded me of were a few passages from The Analects of Confucius about the power of Language and the importance of using ones words wisely. Best amongst these is the passage "The Master said, 'In antiquity men were loath to speak. This was because they counted it shameful if their person failed to keep up with their words'"(IV.22)

This may not be exactly applicable to what Lalwendė was saying about the unity of Language and Power, but it does seem to fit. It even tosses the idea of 'Honour' into the mix; if ones Word is ones Honour, and ones Word holds ones Power does not ones Honour hold ones power as well...and could it not be that only those who are Honourable hold Power. Saruman broke his Word in that he joined those who were 'evil' when he was 'good', in doing so he lost his Honour and had his Power symbolically taken from him in the breaking of his staff...

Ah well...such are my thoughts, may they be worthy of consideration and let you see something which you had not before...

Many Thanks

mark12_30 02-28-2005 08:05 PM

Many good thoughts, Shelob. Integrity=power? I think there is something to that, yes... especially from the catholic scriptural point of view, which anchored Tolkien.

drigel 03-01-2005 08:45 AM


if ones Word is ones Honour, and ones Word holds ones Power does not ones Honour hold ones power as well...and could it not be that only those who are Honourable hold Power.
Nice one shelob! Reminds me of the saying: "The eyes are the windows to the soul." Perhaps one's mouth is the doorway..?..?

I think that beauty/truth as a unifying myth is interesting. I would be careful walking down that path. In Tolkiens works we see the fair folk, but are they embodiments of Truth? There is some connection though. But so much of the work involves the idea of an age that can never be regained.

The use of time (for me) is the mechanism. Truth is more apparent when the ages old veneer of "civilization" is stripped away. Aesthetics has its place in this, but I see it more of an effect (or an expression), than a cause.

Yes, the world was much younger, but it was also more perilous. Even though Truth and Untruth (or Good and Evil) were definately more striking in their differences.

As for eucatastrophe in the Silm, all I can think of is Beren and Luthien in Tol Galen as the only example.

littlemanpoet 03-02-2005 01:46 PM


A eucatastrophe doesn't need to be completely unexpected and unsought.
From Tolkien:

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous "turn" (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially "escapist," is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
The destruction of the Ring was not completely unexpected and unsought. Gandalf had an inkling, pardon the pun. It would appear that I confused "suddenness" with "unexpectedness". Somehow I had thought that there was a phrase in Tolkien's description having to do with "unlooked for". Perhaps that is wrong.

littlemanpoet 11-05-2006 09:23 PM

I just picked up my latest issue of Mythlore magazine (volume 25, Number 1/2: Fall/Winter 2006), which has has an article about the correspondences between LotR and the Northern (Celtic, Norse, & Anglo-Saxon) tradition of swords. The article mentions that the swords have names, usually both formal and vulgar, and that they have lineages.

This fired a synapse, I suppose, in regard to Mythic Unities, and I think I'm on to something. Some of us have talked a bit about how Earth is more real, and living things seem more alive. I noted a question raised by one SPM:

Originally Posted by SPM
So what is it about LotR that sets it apart from these other stories that use similar techniques (often, indeed, borrowed from Tolkien). Is there something more than just unity of meaning that lends LotR its mythical quality? Or is it simply that Tolkien uses this technique more effectively than any other authors in this genre? If so, how?

And what of the (no doubt) many people who have read LotR who do not find it making any impact on them, or any impact which is significantly greater than other works of literature that they have read?

My current developing answer, based on current synapse firings, is that Tolkien succeeded in investing his tale with potency in all facets. Language is a central piece of this. Language has history and development. Language is the primary (maybe only) medium of meaning for humans. Language is thus one of the primary ingredients in the potency of which I speak. Words are invested with meaning and effect. Oaths cause things to happen. Spells cause things to happen. This is so because words do themselves hold potency. They make a difference. Words scratched as runes on swords have potency. Words carry meaning from mind to mind. Words constructed as story weave a spell upon enchantable people. That some people are not enchanted by the potency of LotR signifies that they are dead to Words, rather than impervious. That they don't understand the words, or their power, does not lessen the effect words have on them.

Words and language, speech and writing, event and story, are significant aspects of mythic unity, but not its entirety. If words are invested with a potency, from where does that potency come? or from whence is it derived? or whom? Tolkien posits the gods; and ultimately Eru. Speaking of Eru, I'm reminded of the great Song the gods sing, the Ainulindalė. Words combined Artfully (craftily) with Music take the potency to a higher level as does a rune scratched onto a sword; or a Ring. Add Dance to Words and Music and the potency is yet higher. Combine them in ritual, such as in coronation, marriage, funeral, etc., and you have an even more charged enactment.

This, then, is what most (hack?) writers in the fantasy genre don't get. They try to use psychology and/or character development to achieve what Tolkien did with the sheer potency of words.

Lalwendė 11-06-2006 02:29 AM

Going right back to your first post here, I was thinking about whether other writers use this 'mythic unity' idea (and I know I've discussed this with you elsewhere, though it might be useful to pop it on here); it would be useful to have other writers who do/did this in order to put things into context.

William Blake is the immediate person who springs to mind. He quite literally strove for unity with his use of art and poetry in combination; I recently went to an exhibition on Poetic Vision, looking at how art and poetry have been and are used in tandem (sometimes in a way that neither can be divorced from the other) to create something entirely different. Blake was of course one of the poet/artists included. But the exhibition also included work by Hughes who worked with a photographer to produce Elmet (another mythic work based on the old kingdom!), William Morris who intended works such as The Wood Beyond The World to be printed by the Kelmscott Press in beautiful hand made editions filled with medieval style illuminations and engravings (and having seen one of these books close up I can now see why this was not going to be economically viable!). Then again we had various pre-Raphaelite artists and poets who combined the two disciplines to create something 'other'. And we also have those who did not strive for 'unity' but who nevertheless touched on the visionary aspects of Art such as Samuel Palmer.

Some of the above of course were inspirations to Tolkien which raises other questions.

However, back to Blake who said "the imagination is not a State: it is the Human existence itself." He was one writer who did indeed believe that the physical and spiritual were inextricably linked. In using the old sense of the word "pneuma" in the first post here I instantly recognised that this was what Blake wrote about. Of course there is also the way he could 'see God' in the smallest thing, how he thought the world itself was thronged with angels and deities, that they suffused its being, and ours.

We often apply the words 'mystical' and 'visionary' to things we just don't understand, and Blake suffers from this. However Tolkien does too, depsite his use of more direct language and an easy narrative. Both make use of archetypes (and indeed its been said many a time here before that Tolkien's characters are rarely if ever 'seen from the inside' and he has been pinpointed as using archetype characters); Blake has his Four Zoas in Jerusalem: the Emanation of the Great Albion who fulfill the archetype purpose - in fact this epic is about Jerusalem achieving 'unity' once more. Then we also have Milton which is about 'Unity'.

And niftily tying in to the latest thoughts from lmp we come to language, as Blake of course was one of the greatest users of language, understanding the complexities of meaning and how seemingly simple words could have so many other meanings. Read Songs of Innocence and Experience and you can get seemingly endless new interpretations each time you read the poems, and yet they are so easy to read (especially in contrast to Blake's epics). Sound familiar? Yup, Tolkien created this easy to read work (LotR if you can't guess) too, one which seems to throw up endless interpretations and harnesses the power of words.

Finally, moving off from Blake, now it might also be useful to consider which other writers realise and make use of the power of words. In fantasy there is Ursula le Guin who makes great play of the power and potency of Names, but there is someone else who got 'inside language' as Tolkien did - Anthony Burgess. Its too long since I read any of his work, but in the most infamous work, Clockwork Orange you can see how he does a reverse Tolkien, and instead of going back to the source and recovering meanings of words, he takes them forwards and sees where words might end up. I could write more on this and carry on all day, likely, but I must get me breakfast now, alas. The point is, I suppose, that Tolkien was not alone...

littlemanpoet 11-06-2006 10:00 AM

Interesting connections, Lal. I shall have to go back and try Blake again.

This potency of words makes it clear why various characters in LotR and the Sil will cry, "Speak not so!" when someone states an untruth or a mis-truth or worse, a curse. I think it stood out most to me in the Athrabeth.

So if words have this much potency, imagine the impact of a single choice lie. Obviously lies have impact anyway, but the whole notion here seems to lend itself to the idea (Tolkien's in part) that humans are by their very nature sub-creators; therefore, every word we speak is an act of sub-creation. To sub-create a falsehood is to undercut the very fabric of reality, creating a tear in the tapestry of what is. To correct it requires uncovering the lie and knitting back together the torn fabric of reality.

Imagine writing this way, whether rpg or actual myth!

Lalwendė 11-06-2006 12:15 PM

Interesting point about Lies and stories. If you want to read what one writer has to say about Lies, try His Dark Materials.

Note, may be a plot spoiler here so don't read if you don't want the books ruining for you (though its not a big spolier)!

In The Amber Spyglass Lyra feels compelled to go to the Land of the Dead, a horrible place ruled over by the Harpies; this is where all the dead people go and they are effectively stuck here. Lyra tries to tell the Harpies stories, but they attack her. This is because although she has told them stories, she has told them lies. The deal is that if Lyra tells them stories which are true, then she will be shown the way out, and what's more, if anyone else who goes there tells the Harpies True Stories then they too will be allowed to leave (and to finally be free).

What Pullman is saying here is on one level that we should all make sure to live our lives to the full and to have plenty of stories to tell at the end of it all, but he's also saying that the very best stories are True. In the world he creates, lies at first help Lyra, help her find her way out of a whole lot of trouble (hence her nickname Silvertongue), but when it comes to the most serious of situations, she learns that lies are wrong, and that they do not make for good stories; very interesting in the context of a lie 'tearing' the fabric of reality, considering all the cutting between worlds which happens in these books!

littlemanpoet 11-06-2006 09:09 PM

Indeed. I read the trilogy a few years ago. I enjoyed it very much until it started into its polemics against the paper-tiger church, but that's another issue. Interesting point about lies and silvertongues and literal cutting between worlds! .... which, if I recall, actually did, within the story, serve to injure the worlds and the universe itself .... right?

Lalwendė 11-07-2006 02:19 AM

It does indeed injure the fabric of the universe/s, in fact all this cutting goes even further and puts life and human consciousness itself in peril. I find it interesting that he basically says that lies are not just wrong but in the end affect us after death. Mind you, he is not just the anti-religion polemicist that he's been painted to be. After another close reading of the text and then branching off into some of his supplementary writings and works he was inspired by, I find I regret blasting him for his work! I still think he's wrong about Tolkien (but that's a long story...)...An awful lot of misinformation has spread about HDM (which he has not always sought to correct, no doubt he thinks he needs the publicity!). He is not blasting the Catholic church but an imagined extreme form of Calvinism, and he is not an atheist, though I understand how it would take some effort for a Christian reader to get over what he says - the Archbishop of Canterbury lauds the books by the way.

Anyway, again here we have another writer (no doubt influenced heavily by Blake) who deals in 'mythic unities' - much of HDM deals with the nature of the relationship between body and soul, and with Pullman we have another writer who sees the importance of this and tries to clutch at that mysterious 'something'.

littlemanpoet 11-11-2006 02:10 PM

Somehow, subcreation seems to be an important piece of this whole thing. Writing or speaking story creates a new woven fabric of meaning and imagined (imaged?) reality, and one can be successful in such a subcreation, or not. Which links this thread to the one on "the wrong kind of details".

There are writers who just don't get it, but we read their hack anyway, and come away feeling unsatisfied. Why? Because they don't cause wonder, and they don't succeed in effecting a recovered view of reality. What is this recovered view? It is to more closely (certainly not completely!) have revealed to our perception the livingness of creation; which means mythic unities instead of seeing things piecemeal.

One way of keeping this kind of thing in mind is to look at the tree out your back window. Maybe it still has leaves. I just looked out the window at a tree in my neighbor's yard, just as a strong breeze was blowing through. It hit me, watching those leaves dance, that a tree is always interacting with its environment (a rather cold and scientific way of putting it, I admit); that is, leaves never just are. They are sprouting, moving, growing, changing in color, dying, falling, mouldering. Real life is always busy recreating. It's a work of art that never stops being made. I'm failing for words. Maybe you understand what I'm trying to describe in this cumbersome way.

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